Opening NightFrom Hamilton to Bandstand: The Secret to Andy Blankenbuehler’s GeniusThe Bandstand director-choreographer, along with his cast and co-creators, hit the red carpet LIVE on Playbill to reveal the secrets behind making the new musical soar.
April 27, 2017
When Bandstand opened on Broadway April 26 starring Tony nominee Laura Osnes and Corey Cott, it made Broadway history. The new musical, directed and choreographed by two-time Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler with a book and score by newcomers Richard Oberacker and Robert Tayler, is the first piece of theatre ever to earn certification from Got Your 6, a campaign that works with government leaders and entertainment professionals to ensure authenticity in the depiction of veterans. Playbill talked to the cast and creative team on the opening-night red carpet about the milestone achievement, what it’s like to dance Blankenbuehler’s out-of-this-world choreography, and the contagious energy of the swingin’ ’40s.
The story, set in 1945, follows war veteran Donny Novitski (played by Cott) as he returns home, trying to deal with the loss of his best friend and working to rediscover the music career he left behind when shipped off to war. When—in an effort to support the troops—a national radio contest looks to find the next big band to play in an upcoming Hollywood film, Donny puts together the only group entirely composed of veteran-musicians, and finds a star singer in the widow of his lost friend (Julia Trojan, played by Osnes). As the band members all grapple with PTSD, the bombast of swing music proves the outlet they all need. But with the story of the band at the center of the musical, the actors had to pull quadruple duty.
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”There’s nothing more mortifying for us than seeing someone miming,” said Bandstand book writer and lyricist Taylor, who also happens to be a violinist. “We wanted people who could actually, not just play the instruments a little bit, but kill it.”
“We have musical instruments that function as monologue, so when that trumpet player plays his trumpet, it sounds like he's crying; it's just like he's singing and he's crying,” said Blankenbuehler. “What we realized early on is that we wanted that authenticity to be really vibrant. We have some actors who we taught to play and some musicians who we taught to act.”
Speaking of Blankenbuehler, the dancers of Bandstand’s ensemble attempt next-level feats. How does the two-time Tony winner (and four-time Best Choreography nominee) get his dancers to wow audiences while still telling a story?
“He’s the best dancer in the room, and essentially we all just try and steal an ounce of his style and an ounce of his swagger,” says ensemble member Ryan Kasprzak. “When I think of trying to dance like Andy, I’m not thinking about the way I look, I’m trying to hear the music the way Andy hears the music. He hears beats inside beats. He hears beats in empty space. I’m trying to hear what he hears. If you can hear it, you can feel it, and if you can feel it, you can dance it.”
While Playbill spoke with Tony-nominated set designer David Korins, Tony winner Beth Leavel, actors Alex Bender, Joe Carroll, Brandon J. Ellis, Geoff Packard, James Nathan Hopkins, Mary Callanan, Max Clayton, Drew McVety and more, we could not close out the evening without talking to Cott and Osnes. Watch the video above to hear what they feel is the most challenging part about playing Donny and Julia, what goes through their heads at key moments in the show, and why it was worth the wait to bring Bandstand to Broadway.